THE ADVENTURES OF NONO
by JEAN GRAVE
[continued from Chapter V]
THE END OF THE EVENING
The children rushed to the sheds where the tools and props were kept, and there, helped by Labor, and some of his little genies, they pulled poles and canvas from it, and carried them onto the esplanade.
There they raised an immense, square tent, facing the front steps, which would serve as bleachers for the spectators.
Nono was amazed to see Labor’s elves rush about; with their help, the heaviest poles were raised by half a dozen of infants without more effort than a wicker stick, and the canvas which made up the tent, despite its weight, were raised and stretched without the least visible effort.
These elves were little men, counterfeit, but very beautiful to look at, dressed in red capes, as Nono had seen in the storybooks that he had read; but agile like monkeys, strong like oxen and, despite their unfriendly expression, very merry companions at heart, sometimes loving to play practical jokes. There, among others, Dick occupied himself with the raising of a pole, having already teased one of them, who was close to him, amused himself again pulling on his cape. The elf seemed to feel nothing, but managed to hook Dick’s trousers to the pole, which was raised at that moment. And Dick, suspended in the air, waved his arms and legs like a spider at the end of a line. Someone hurried to free him from the perilous position. Aside from that incident, all went well, and, in a very short time, the auditorium was improvised, with trapezes, hoops, and fixed bars. It was the fairy Electricia, another companion of Labor, who was in charge of lighting the space. And she had done so magnificently. Gigantic lamps, at the top of the pylons from which they were suspended, shed a white light, slightly bluish like a moonbeam. They saw there clear as daylight.
“Okay. That’s going well,” said Labor, after ascertaining the strength of ropes and trapezes bars. “Our artists can come. We are ready for them.”
“And here is a snack that has been prepared for the,” said Solidaria, lifting the curtain-door that hid the entrance to another tent forming an elegant lounge where the artists could stay. A small space, tastefully arranged, adorned with all sorts of flowers furnished by the garden beds of Autonomie.
“Then all is in order. Let us begin to take our places,” said Labor.
“Electricia can inform the artists that their room is ready,” added Solidaria.
And, followed by the children, they headed for the steps, where each took the place that suited them.
When everyone was seated and the silence was established, an invisible orchestra sounded, thus setting the stage for the arrival of artists.
Its last notes had hardly chimed when the artists appeared.
There were five of them. Four of them looked like giant frogs, dressed in yellows and greens; the fifth, the smallest, was decked out like a green tree-frog.
Lining up, facing the stairs, they greeted the assembly, opening big mouths and big, stupid eyes, which made all the little ones roar with laughter.
Then they began, on the rings, then on the trapezes, a series of turns that brought to light the grace and boldness of the performers. The little tree-from who, certainly, was the clown of the troupe, repeated the same turns, overdoing them in so comic a manner, that she garnered the largest part of the applause.
And when they had made a series of contortions and hilarious antics, mad reversals, recoveries, suspensions and drops, bold or comic, the performers to lined up again, greeting the assembly, which applauded enthusiastically.
But, instantly, their frog costumes disappeared, and they appeared dressed in sky-blue singlets whose gold embroidery and sequins made them look like pretty butterflies.
And young spectators recognized five of their comrades who had secretly prepared that surprise.
The applause redoubled when they were recognized.
Impassive, they bowed, and began on the parallel bars, composed of four rows, a series of balanced turns and flips which again aroused the enthusiastic applause of the young audience, who still clapped their hands enthusiastically after the little performers had retired to the room that had been prepared for them, and the spectacle ended.
For the duration of the exercises, the music had not stopped making itself heard, but softly, mixing its rhythm to the movements of the gymnasts.
Nono opened his eyes wide as carriage gates. “Did you see,” he said to his neighbor Hans, “the little one being so silly? What is his name?”
“It is Ahmed,” said Hans, who was no less enthusiastic. “Did you see the big one, as he hung by his heels from the ladder, upside down?”
And they all exchanged their reflections, talking endlessly and enthusiastically about the moves that had struck them most.
“There, there, that’s enough,” said Amorata, another sister of Solidaria, appearing there, “Now, we have to think about going to bed; your eyes begin to get heavy with sleep, but first I bring you news of your parents, as I have promised to give you every night.”
And at a sign that she made, a band of Labor’s gnomes brought a device, behind the group of children, while a large white canvas was stretched at the bottom of the tent, the darkness came suddenly and a luminous jet shot out of the apparatus, tracing a giant circle on the white canvas.
Nono wondered what that meant, being anxious to know whether he, a newcomer, would also have news of his family?
Eyes fixed on the circle of light, he first saw a light fog that moved and divided, to gather then in points that ended by forming a distinct image, that Nono recognized immediately.
It was the room where his family took their meals. A door, ajar, opened onto another room, where the big brother was preparing for bed.
Sitting at the table, in the first room, his father read the newspaper; his sister Cendrine, close to their father, wrote her homework; his mother, at another corner of the table, mended clothing.
At a noise from the door, she raised her head, and rising, went to open it. It was the porter, who brought a letter.
The porter seemed to want to have a little chat, but the parents, who seemed animated by a strong desire to know the contents of the letter, did nothing to detain him. As soon as he left, his mother opened the letter, and read it in a loud voice. It was Solidaria who sent news of her ward.
Cendrine, who listened attentively, expressed the desire to have fine adventures like her brother. But she was told that such adventures were not made for little girls.
“How mistaken her parents were,” thought Nono to himself, seeing, among his comrades, as many girls as boys.
Titi expressed the desire to find a country where they could live without being forced to go to shut himself up twelves hours a day in a workshop.
Then the image faded, the circle of light tightened and finally disappeared, and light flooded the room again.
“Hey!” said Nono, addressing Mab, “Did you see papa and mama?”
“Yes, and also my sister May, who played with Pussy, our pretty little black and white cat.”
“No, I spoke of my mother and my father.”
“Ah, I forgot,” said Mab, laughing. “I do not know how this is done. There is only one image on the canvas, but each of us sees the ones they love, and nothing else.”
“Yes, it's an odd magic lantern,” said Hans. “You have seen your parents, I have seen mine, and Mab, hers. For each of us here, it is the same, without anyone seeing what the others have seen.”
Nono could not believe it, but accustomed, on this day, to see more and more extraordinary things, if he had still not lost the capacity for astonishment, he was gradually getting used to the most extraordinary things.
The little population of Autonomie climbed the porch steps. Nono followed his comrades, and they found themselves under the peristyle where a large bay opened a large bay with access to a vestibule where several other doors opened, as well as various stairs leading to the upper floors.
“Come,” said Hans, “our rooms are on the first floor. There is a vacancy next to mine. You will take it.”
The crowd of children dispersed up the stairs. Hans, Nono, Mab, and Biquette climbed the steps of the one that was on their right.
“You see,” said Hans, entering a room and turning a knob that turned on the lights, “this is where you can stay. My room is next door. Mab’s room is across the hall. Those of Biquette are Sacha further along, but in the same corridor.”
Nono and saw that the room, quite spacious and illuminated during the day by a large window overlooking the gardens, was stylishly furnished with a small bed and fine, bright, clean linen. In a corner was a dressing table. A wardrobe and two chairs completed the furniture.
“Hey,” said Mab arriving with three or four books that she had gone to find in her room, “we forgot to go to the library; but if you want to read before you got to sleep, here are some volumes you can choose in the meantime.”
And Hans, pointing to a small jug of milk on the table near the bed, said: “Here something to drink if you're thirsty at night.”
“If the light bothers you,” said Dick, who had come in, “you have only to turn that knob.”
And, suiting the action to the word, he turned down the lights in the bedroom.
Turning the knob again, the light reappeared.
Nono, a little tired by so many emotions, thanked his friends heartily, hugged them and wished them good night; each went back to their room, and silence fell in the palace.
[Continued in Chapter VII]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]